It’s hard not to love the Jawbone Jambox, a small, $150 speaker that wirelessly plays music from mobile devices or computers via Bluetooth. I’ve used other portable Bluetooth speakers, and have found them lacking compared with the stylish, best-selling Jambox.
Until I came across Logitech’s newest mobile speaker, that is.
This $100 speaker, part of Logitech’s Ultimate Ears product line, hit the Apple store in late August. It recently became more widely available at retailers like Amazon and Best Buy.
Like the Jambox, the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox is surprisingly lightweight and portable, despite its name, which conjures up images of hefty speakers you hoist up on your shoulder. It uses Bluetooth technology to wirelessly play music stored on your devices, or music that’s streamed from apps like Spotify or Pandora. It can also be used to amplify phone calls or the audio on Web videos.
Even though the Logitech is $50 cheaper than the Jambox, it doesn’t scrimp on style or sound. I like its rounded compact body, and its rubbery exterior gives the impression it can take a few hits or drops and survive.
Most importantly, I found the sound quality to be impressive for such a small speaker. Music played through it sounded full, and the calls I patched through it sounded remarkably clear.
This is particularly notable for a company that started out making computer mice, back in 1981. More recently, Logitech has expanded to accessories for mobile devices like iPhones and iPads, signaling a shift in strategy due to the slowdown in the PC market.
Logitech is still regaining its footing, but it got a jolt of momentum last year, when former Apple employee Guerrino De Luca took over as CEO again, and the company began focusing on simple, elegant design in its products. The company’s UE Mobile Boombox, TV Cam HD and Ultrathin iPad Keyboard are a few examples of this.
The Logitech UE Mobile Boombox measures 4.4 inches by 2.4 inches, and is 2.6 inches thick. It’s actually fatter than the Jambox, like a hearty sandwich roll, but also light, at 10.5 ounces. It’s available in five snazzy colors, including white, red and solid black.
The one I got my hands on is a combination of light gray and royal blue. I didn’t love the gray; it reminded me of old, putty-colored computer speakers. But the speaker is still hip-looking –- not annoyingly hip, like skinny jeans, but effortlessly hip, like it would work just as well in a minimalist’s office as it would in a trendy apartment.
Its rounded edges made it easy to grip, as did the rubber coating that wraps around the top, bottom and sides. Metal grills make up the meat of the speaker. I found it easier to pack in my luggage and throw in my bag than I did the narrow but angular Jambox.
The Logitech will work with pretty much any Bluetooth-capable device, including iPhones and iPads, Android smartphones and tablets, and desktop computers and laptops. You can also toggle between two devices at the same time, so you and a friend could take turns playing music from your phones without having to reconnect each time; the speaker will remember up to eight devices.
I tested the Logitech using the iPhone and iPad, as well as a couple laptops. I also hooked my laptop up to a TV and used the speaker while watching Web video on a large screen. I listened mostly to compressed files that I’ve downloaded through Apple’s iTunes store or Amazon’s MP3 store.
Connecting the Logitech to my iPhone was a pretty standard, painless process: I activated Bluetooth on my phone and then pressed the Bluetooth button on the top of the speaker, which is just a slight indentation in the rubber coating. The speaker emits the sound of a guitar strum when it powers on, or is ready to pair –- a nice effect, although I missed the Jambox’s polite lady voice that delivers alerts.
Music sounded remarkably well-balanced on the speaker, with a fullness of sound that belies its small size. Midrange sound and vocals sounded solid and clear, with only the occasional high note or snare drum sounding harsh or tinny.
The speaker also has a sound hole in the back that’s meant to compensate for its size by enhancing low-frequency sounds. While cranking a few bass-heavy songs up to top volume (with a maximum output of 78 decibels) didn’t do anything flattering for this “boombox,” songs played at 65 percent to 75 percent of volume capacity sounded full and rarely distorted.
Some Web videos on YouTube, patched through my laptop, didn’t sound as great. And I found that it was a lot quicker and easier to dial someone up and talk through the speaker than it was to accept an interrupting call. First the music would stop playing. Then I would see a call coming through on my phone, press speakerphone, select the Logitech as the audio source, and still have to wait a second or two before I could hear the caller.
When it came to battery life, the little Logitech fulfilled its promise of 10 hours. I tested the battery by playing music nonstop at about 75 percent of volume capacity, with intermittent phone calls coming through, until the speaker died.
However, unlike the 10-hour Jambox, the Logitech speaker doesn’t tell you when the battery is running low.
Otherwise, I can vouch for the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox as a solid speaker with good sound that gives the more expensive Jambox a run for the money.